Pay Us What You Owe: The Irony of Self-Care in a Consumer Culture
Updated: Jul 10, 2018
Lesson Number 1: Listen to your body.
Lesson Number 2: Being passionate about your work doesn't mean you have to kill yourself.
These things are killing us...
I recently became sick with the flu and slight strep throat while on a business trip to Charlotte NC. The week prior, I was in Washington, DC. The week prior, I was Houston, TX. The week prior, I had to fire an employee. The week before, I hired an employee.
This has been the relative pace of my life for the last year and a half with one break - I sat down for a week when I donated a kidney to a very dear friend in September.
Now most people know what I do for a living, fight for equity and justice for all people. But somehow people think it’s a hobby or a side gig. It's not, but that's not what this blog is about.
This is about the irony of the use of the phrase "self-care," and the way our consumer culture feeds on us like a Súcubos, never really allowing us to take that self-care for fear that the moment we rest, we will either be seen as irrelevant, or worse, someone will be hurt severely while we’re taking a break.
I'll briefly address the latter before delving into the former a bit more extensively.
Will people get hurt while we're taking time off? Absolutely. Can we change that? No. And that reality sucks. But if we don’t take the time our bodies crave, they will shut down and we won’t be able to help them anyway.
The reality that taking time off has the ability to make us irrelevant is true. Our consumer culture is a glutinous beast craving to be feed daily. When we break, people lose interest and move on.
Most people in my line of work aren’t doing it for the fans or the fame, although we deserve both.
We're trying to effect real revolutionary change. And when people stop listening to our message it immediately limits our ability to make that change. Our absence makes us somehow irrelevant.
Part of the solution is that we, those “in the work,” have to actually plan self-care and make it a requirement in our professional life. That means that those of us lucky enough to do this for a living and run organizations need to have robust vacation and sick time policies, along with family and medical insurance. And those who fund our work need to realize that these are expensive “perks” for any employer and therefore should fund us appropriately because you care more about the PEOPLE doing the work than the work being DONE.
Second, all of you who ask us to come speak at your program, lead a workshop, present at your community event and lead a training for your congregation must start compensating us for our time like the world changing, Revolutionary, rock stars we are!
This will do a few things:
1. We’ll actually be able to afford the vacation once we have the time off to take it.
2. We’ll feel appreciated for the work we do and therefore won’t need to be fulfilled by how many different events we MUST do (most of us not all of us).
3. It’s just the right thing to do. People love King and Fannie and Chavez and X, Rustin and Shakur (Assata not Pac, though we love him too!), but one of the things they all had in common other then “changing the damn world" as my friend and colleague Bishop Dewayne Royster frequently says, is they all were/are relatively low-income.
Now some of those mentioned about were/are purposely low-income, part comes as a bi-product of the reality that those who consume our gifts and can afford to compensate us accordingly just don’t.
And when they do break us off a little change they think they own us. Oh, and by the way, when you beg us to come to your convening and your payment is our flight and hotel and a few meals it’s much appreciated, but it’s also the very least you can do. Even when we don’t present or teach from the stage vicariously through having us in your convening, we bring value. You know this, and you should act accordingly by paying for our time. Airfare and lodging don’t make up for the time we could be in our own cities making a difference. And guess what? That airfare and lodging isn’t going into our bank accounts - it’s going to the airlines and the hotels for a trip that we didn’t seek out.
So this is a quick message just to say to all my siblings on the ground floor of the movement, we have no choice but to take care of ourselves and each other.
And to all those who have the funds to “rent our time” pay us what you owe.